Thursday, February 01, 2024

Comparing Alcohol and Edibles: Assessing Their Impact on Health


Comparing Alcohol and Edibles: Assessing Their Impact on Health

Getting buzzed is big business, and according to a 2023 report sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, adults ages 35 to 50 are turning to alcohol and marijuana at record levels. This trend extends beyond the traditional nightly cocktail or joint, with North American edible sales soaring to more than $3.5 billion in 2022, as reported by the market research firm Global Market Insights. While it's evident that both substances are popular, assessing the comparative health risks of alcohol and edibles remains a nuanced challenge.

Comparing Alcohol and Edibles: Assessing Their Impact on Health

Your Body on Alcohol

Nobody needs to be told that alcohol has a direct and swift impact on the head. Once consumed, it disrupts the brain's communication system, affecting judgment, mood, and coordination, as highlighted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. On the milder end of the spectrum, this can result in a pleasantly tipsy feeling. However, excessive alcohol intake can lead to devastating consequences, including falls, accidents, and impaired judgment, according to the Centers for Disease control and Prevention.

Your Body on Edibles

Edibles, such as cannabis-infused foods like gummies, brownies, and muffins, derive their buzz-promoting properties from tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a substance found in the cannabis plant. The impact on your body when consuming edibles varies depending on the dose. While they may produce feelings of relaxation, giddiness, or euphoria, overconsumption can lead to anxiety, panic, paranoia, dizziness, rapid heart rate, and altered perception. Similar to alcohol, cannabis can impair your ability to drive, doubling the risk of a car accident, according to the UCLA Center for Cannabis and Cannabinoids.

Comparing Short-Term and Long-Term Effects

The short-term effects of alcohol usually manifest between 15 to 45 minutes after consumption, while edibles are less predictable, kicking in anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours later, says Janice Newell Bissex, a holistic cannabis practitioner. “People run into problems when they consume an edible and don’t feel much after 30 to 60 minutes and then decide to take another,” she says. “Then by the time it takes effect, they’ve overconsumed to the point of being stoned and uncomfortable.” That’s because edibles hang out in your body for a long time. While alcohol is usually fully metabolized within four to eight hours, edibles don’t even start to peak until after four hours after you eat them, and effects can last for as long as 12 hours, says Newell Bissex.

Long-Term Effects

Comparing the long-term health effects of alcohol and edibles is a little bit like comparing apples and oranges. Sure, we have decades of research on alcohol. “By contrast, commercially produced edible cannabis products haven’t been available in the U.S. for very long, so we haven’t had much chance to study them,” says Ellicott Matthay, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Population Health at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine. “The combination of these products being relatively new plus the regulatory barriers to conducting cannabis research means that we know far less than we would like to about their short- and long-term effects on health and behavior,” Matthay explains.

The Bottom Line

Whether you choose to consume alcohol or edibles, the decision ultimately rests with you. Both options come with their set of risks, and individual preferences and circumstances play a crucial role. According to Janice Newell Bissex, a holistic cannabis practitioner, and others, research indicates that the detrimental effects of alcohol—physically, mentally, and societally—are potentially worse than those associated with cannabis consumption. If you find yourself using either substance and are concerned about developing substance use disorder, reaching out to your primary medical provider or another trusted source for support is recommended.

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